This is my friend Shaye:
He looks like a regular guy, doesn’t he? Well what if I told you THIS IS ALSO MY FRIEND SHAYE:
Well just you prepare to be all like, “WHAT THE WHAT?!?” Because that, my friends, is no lie. Shaye Whitmer is a Jedi Master.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Everyone likes to dress up now and again, he’s just one of those crazy cos-players.
But that’s where you’d be wrong because Shaye does not play around. Not only does he teach people how to fight like Jedi, he makes his own lightsabers. For realz, CHECK IT:
Now, making lightsabers isn’t for the weak-willed namby pambies. Nope. You have to be a dedicated to the art of geeking out about tiny electronic whatsits to attain such mastery.
How did he do it? Well I’m glad you want to know! Because I asked him. Here is the wisdom he imparted upon me:
At what point did you decide to ramp up your hobby to such awesomeness?
It started when my wife got my son a Hasboro lightsaber that lit up and made sounds—you know the retractable tube one? Well, Son #1 got that and Son #2 wanted in on the action so we got him one too (one has to be fair). The kids are wailing on each other and I thought to myself, “WHY DON’T I HAVE ONE?!” Unlike my kids, I have a salary which meant that could get whatever I wanted. After 3 months of dithering and searching I bought a pretty fancy one. It’s made of metal, lights up and is rated strong enough to tackle a tree.
After I got it, I realized there were a few things that it didn’t do which I thought it should. It changed colors on impact, made sounds, and had a sound font that you could change but it could not flicker or shimmer and that annoyed me. So I decided to upgrade it. I searched the internet and found a few forums that dealt only with lightsabers. I tried something and failed. I was undeterred, because I found a sound board that could give a lightsaber the shimmer I desperately wanted. I figured I could install it myself and in so doing teach myself more about soldering and electronics.
I bought it (didn’t break it) and installed it into a hilt that I had picked up and gutted for that very purpose. I used my first saber for reference and put everything in the new gutted housing the same way. I was delighted and reveled in my own success. It was not as bad as I thought it would be and I attained my goal. Darn skippy…
Then I learned about this other board that could do everything the other boards could do, combined, more sounds schemes and it could change colors! To this I said “WHAAAAAAA? COLOR CHANGING BLADE?! Can I haz it?” Sure I could! The only catch being I had to install this waaaaaay more complex beast on my own.
This was a big step! New battery types, new LEDs, soldering on to LED stars 3x as many solder connections and joints. It was a bit terrifying. I got another lightsaber (similar to the one I bought initially), ripped it apart and started drilling holes. To say I had issues was an understatement but I did it. Then upon completion, I knock loose some parts on the circuit board.
“CRAP.” Said I and sent it away to be fixed (and it only had to go to Issaquah, hurrah). When I got it back, I made a few changes and finished it. It worked! Relief and self satisfaction flowed through me. Where once I had only one color per saber, I now effectively had 16777216 color variations. I was content…for a time.
Why? Why do you build lightsabers?
Every time I build one, I set out a new skill to learn and apply. The next one I built was also a color changing saber, but I wanted an illuminated crystal section that glows and matches whatever the color the blade glowed. Had to learn more about resistances and diodes to make sure I didn’t blow the LED’s. I also wanted to do a shroud (which covers the outside of the saber). I learned them and it was good.
Both of these were heavily modified versions of sabers that already existed. I felt that I did not need to depend on other companies to make hilts, and that I can do it myself. Currently I am working on a bent hilt (like Count Dooku) and a one with a full chamber reveal where the entire hilt comes apart with an even fancier illuminated crystal designed in CAD and 3-d printed. To do these, I needed to learn how to use MOAR TOOLS *grunts*, a metal lathe, and milling machine were new additions in knowledge in my repertoire.
Somewhere in the middle I learned to make belts and armor too. I am a bit of a neo-Renaissance geek.
What kind of reaction do you get from people when they see the stuff you’ve made?
People are usually pretty impressed, more so when I swing it around and can hit things with it. It helps that my fencing and kendo background also lets me know how to use them. They say “it must be hard to make those”. It only becomes hard when you make it complex and push yourself. People then ask about how long it took that’s when things get a bit crazy.
Okay seriously, how many people have asked you to make them a lightsaber?
I’ve had surprisingly few serious requests. A few people have though. If you include the classes and summer camps I teach, I suppose <20 or so? The hardest part was establishing the cost of my time. I have come to possess a pretty unique skill set.
I’d say that “unique skillset” is kind of an understatement. Do you think you’ll ever get to a point where you decide that you’ve done what you wanted to do and move on to something new?
Now that is a question. In my brief time in the hobby, lighting solutions have changed 2 or 3 times. It is always evolving. As long as there is something new to learn, I’ll likely keep at it. I do enjoy learning new things though at some point, I would like to get back into blade smithing. That is another thing entirely.
Yes, yes it is. What are you making next?
As of right now, I’m still working on the curved hilt and my reveal hilt mentioned above. I have another hilt laying around that I made that I might do something with. I’ll likely take a break for a bit and build a hilt for a commission. Then, tinker with some new ideas. I suppose in the short term I should finish my Halloween costume! The Borg. Trying some new techniques to apply with my art students.
I don’t know about you but I can sleep better at night knowing that when the Empire eventually takes over the galaxy you’re one of the good guys. Thank you, Shaye, for sharing your incredible hobby with us!
And this post wouldn’t be complete without a big thank you to Danny Ngan for the action shots! Check out more of his work at Danny Ngan Phtography. I recommend you go there right now because he also does Roller Derby portraits and Roller Derby is cool.